Lesley Howes is a lead psychologist at Maggies. Thanks to a new partnership, Lesley has been supporting our patient community this year with Wellbeing Wednesday every week  (a friendly support group, open to all) and a series of Wellbeing Webinars, where Lesley shares tips and tricks that help you look after your mental health. 

We wanted to share a few tips from these webinars, for those who may have missed them. These are just a few of our favourite tips from Lesley - if you find any of this advice useful, it's well worth joining live at our next event on 19 November.

Why is this necessary?

What do we mean when we say we're feeling overwhelmed? That feeling can arise from a host of different stresses, for example: uncertainty about shielding or worry about your health or the health of a loved one. Being stuck at home, in the same place all day, can also lead to this feeling - a reduction in our choices can make use feel powerless - making us feel even more overwhelmed. 

But if you're feeling stressed, anxious and overwhelmed - there are things you can do to help yourself feel better. These techniques are not always easy, and they can sound deceptively simple, but they can really make a difference. 

Who was in the shower with you this morning?

We should be having a break in the shower, a nice moment to ourselves. But we often start thinking about our boss, our clinician, our family members, the friend we’re seeing on zoom later. Suddenly our shower feels very crowded!

Tomorrow morning, notice who joins you in the shower. If someone does join you, grab some lovely shower product and give it a deep sniff. Let the scent and the warm water bring you back into the here and now. You deserve to have a moment in the present when you’re not worrying about the day ahead. Take opportunities like this to stop taunting and haunting yourself and just think about what’s happening now. You're warm, you're safe and you smell lovely. 

Five ways to manage overwhelm

1. Reach out

Lesley said in our last webinar: "Asking for help doesn’t mean you're vulnerable, it means you're wise and strong." Getting support and advice from people who have actually been in the same situation as you is really powerful, and can have a different impact to support from friends or even psychologists like Lesley!

You don't have to feel alone. Come to Wellbeing Wednesdays, join the webinars, say hello to our wonderful community in the Patient Support Facebook group. You might be surprised at how much better you feel. 

We are here for you. 

2. Pause.

Lesley says: “When we feel all mixed up inside like a snow globe, a pause allows the blizzard to settle.”
If you wake in the middle of the night with your thoughts churning, take a breath and allow worries and feelings to ebb and flow instead of being entangled or caught up in them.

Research says that a difficult emotion will only last 90 seconds if you don’t fuel it with added thinking and self-doubt – try it and see how quickly a feeling can pass.

A pause can also give you a chance to choose how to respond to a situation. Take a moment to respond in a way that's  aligned with your values, rather than react in the moment. Do you want to be a kind person, a compassionate person or an adventurous person? These are your values. You can use them as your compass, rather than reacting quickly in response to fear or stress.

This blog from Lesley on the Maggie's website has lots of exercises and useful links that will help you to pause. Try some of these breathing exercise and bring yourself back into the moment. 

3. Open to change

This is a difficult one - but can be so worthwhile to try. If you struggle against the changes that are happening to you in life, you tend to become more stressed. Instead of feeling fearful, try to think "What could this bring"? Try and visualise how the changes to your life might mean you can change some aspects for the better. How do you want to be? How can you grow as a result of this adversity? Are there any ways in which your life might have more quality than it did before?

Instead of hanging on to the vision of what you wanted your life to be, or how you planned it to be, try to let it go ever so slightly. Tell yourself, "OK I can’t do that now, but I can do this”. For example "OK I can’t go back and be in the workplace, but I can be constructive at home." "I can’t go out, but I can find ways to be the kind and generous person that I know I am, even while I am confined to the house."

4. Routine

At tough times, when your life is disrupted, a routine can help you to keep a sense of structure and a sense of achievement and meaning. This helps us keep buoyant. 

Our confidence slips and sadness creeps in if we let go of routine. Keep your time structured, filled with achievable, meaningful and enjoyable tasks, so you still have a sense of accomplishment at the end of your day.

Find creative ways to bring joy and accomplishment into each day. A daily walk, a nice chocolate from the box after dinner, making a little extra effort to cook a special dinner on Sundays, changing your clothes after you finish working from home. How could you establish a routine?

5. Gratitude

At the end of each day, try to think of 10 things that made you smile or that you’re grateful for.

Find the subtle moments of joy that might have been overlooked. Don't just notice the obvious things, like "My husband brought me a piece of cake," look for things you might not have noticed as an obvious source of joy. It could be the feel of fresh bed linen or a pretty bird in the garden. Where you can, notice the things that brought you a sense of ease today. 

Lesley isn't saying "Have a positive mental attitude, be grateful for the small things!" This is just a simple exercise to help you. It is about finding balance and not losing sight of the goodness in this world that continues despite tough times.

If you find these techniques helpful, or you're still looking for something that works for you, do join Lesley on Wednesday for Wellbeing Wednesdays, or some along to our next Wellbeing Webinar.